How to Safely Approach a Stray Cat

How to Safely Approach a Stray Cat

Stray cats are not uncommon, especially in residential areas. Most are friendly, while others are fearful or skittish. Understanding stray cats, and how to approach them, is a vital skill for any resident animal-lover. Most of the time, people aren’t sure how to approach a stray cat, and for this reason, avoid them– or worse, make enemies with them. Stray cats need love too, and believe it or not, love being pampered just as much as any house cat. There are many ways to approach a stray cat, but below are the safest and most successful steps. 

1. Watch the cat to sense its feelings 

The first step to befriending a stray cat is to empathize and observe: is it skittish? Shy? Friendly? Aggressive? If the cat hisses and backs away when you begin to approach it, it’s not in a place to make a new friend– and it’s better for both of you if you keep your distance. If this happens, and the cat continues to come back, you can move step by step down this list to establish trust. If the cat is friendly upon first approach, however, befriending the cat will be much easier! 

If the cat is friendly, you can approach cautiously. If you feel it’s safe to do so, you might slowly, gently reach out your hand to see if the cat then approaches you. You want the cat to meet you halfway– if you’re the one doing all of the approaching, the cat might feel threatened. Give it a chance to approach you after you’ve made the first move. 

2. Offer cat-safe food 

One of the first things you can do, regardless of whether or not you and the cat have established a friendship, is supply a basic necessity. Cats warm up quicker to people who offer them sustenance– food or water. Beyond establishing trust, giving the cat food or water is taking care of it. This ensures that the cat is well-fed and has its basic needs met. Many strays can manage on their own, but there are also a few domesticated cats that aren’t used to the harsh life of a stray, and need a little extra help. Safe food options to provide include: cat treats, dry cat food, canned cat food (taken out of the can so there are no sharp can edges), and water. Don’t leave food out overnight, however, as it will attract unwanted critters instead of keeping the cat fed. 

3. Establish trust 

Establishing trust can come in many ways. In your initial interactions with the stray cat, start small: crouch down so that you’re on the cat’s level. It’s also recommended that you don’t stare, because staring will make the cat uncomfortable or tense. Approach slowly and gently, and based on when you sensed the cat’s feelings (Step 1), and if the cat seemed friendly and non-threatened, then you can slowly extend your hand to see if the cat approaches you. If the cat is interested, it will sniff your hand or fingers before bowing its head to allow you to pet it. If the cat trusts you enough to let you pet it, start gently and carefully, as to not scare the cat. If you bring out food and water to the cat so that it sees you bringing it sustenance, your actions will continue to establish trust since you’re caring for the cat’s basic needs. 

4. Bonus step: Take the cat to the vet 

This step is for those who have developed a friendship with a stray cat. ONLY attempt this IF you have established solid trust with the cat, and you’re able to coax it into a safe cat carrier to get to the vet. There are a few reasons you might want to take the cat to the vet: to check for a microchip (in case the cat belongs to someone and has gotten lost), for a check-up to make sure it’s healthy and well, or to get it spayed/neutered. If you’re unsure if this is the right thing for you to do, or if you’re unsure how to do it safely, talk to your vet before making any decisions.

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